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Apartment-hunting on the Upper West Side and in Washington Heights

This is probably too late for most of you, who have already arrived, fresh and naive, to my fair city. For others, it may be helpful. This is mostly useful for those looking for apartments with shomer Shabbat/kashrut roommates on the Upper West Side and in Washington Heights, although it can also help with those looking for new apartments, with or without roommates. Some of it may also help in other areas of New York City.

As I'm sure you've already discovered, apartment-hunting in NYC can be very stressful, although it may be better now that fewer people have jobs and thus fewer people are flocking to NYC.

There is a website called BangItOut.com with lots of apartment listings, especially if you're open to moving into apartment with one or two other usually SS/SK (shomer-Shabbat/shomer-kashrut) roommates. It is best for the Upper West Side, but also has a few apartment listings in other parts of NYC and other cities. You can put an ad there if you're looking, although it's best to be proactive and read through the listings. This is true in general in NYC, since there seem to be a lot more people seeking apartments (especially of the less expensive, not gross variety) than apartments/rooms available. The burden is really on the seeker to find a place, not the people with the apartment to find new roommates.

Upper West Side
Other UWS-specific listings that may help include:
  1. Maalot West, the less popular sibling of Maalot Washington (the way to find an apartment with a room open in Washington Heights if you're looking in the SS/SK market)
  2. the KOE (Kehilat Orach Eliezer) weekly Shabbat announcements with listings (I don't see it online, since KOE just apparently redid their website)
  3. the Kehilat Hadar weekly Shabbat announcements with listings (http://www.kehilathadar.org/community/postings)
  4. Look on Craigslist for Upper West Side and Morningside Heights, if you're willing to go a bit further north (past 100th St.). Note that some "Upper West Side" apartment listings will be well into Harlem, which is all fine and good, except that some parts of Harlem (most?) are outside the Upper Manhattan eruv.
Speaking of eruvin, here is a useful map of the Upper Manhattan Eruv.

Washington Heights
Washington Heights-specific listings and listserves that may help include:
  1. There is a great website called Maalot Washington with lots of apartment listings, especially if you're open to moving into apartment with one or two other roommates.
  2. You can put an ad on the Maalot listserv in addition to posting on the Maalot Washington website and responding to ads there and on the listserv.
  3. Look on Craigslist for Washington Heights and also Hudson Heights. (Realtors started calling the fancier part of Washington Heights "Hudson Heights" after it started gentrifying/going upscale. Hudson Heights would generally be the area north of 181st St. and West of Fort Washington Ave.) I saw some apartments that way.
  4. You can put an ad on the Migdal Or listserv by writing, I think, to midgalor [at] gmail.com.
Here is the map of the Washington Heights eruv. Lots of people live outside the eruv, although fewer as time goes on (the eruv is only a few years old). It is almost always cheaper to do so. I live outside the eruv, but it's a little sadder to be outside the eruv now that several of my friends have babies. (There is also an eruv on the Yeshiva University side of Washington Heights, but I know almost nothing about it. Information on the YU eruv can be found here.)

General NYC apartment-hunting advice

NOISE: Some buildings/areas are a lot noisier than others (usually traffic noise, but also loud music late at night in Washington Heights, and noise from people gathering outside of bars on the Upper West Side), so if that's an issue for you, check it out before signing. I usually try to visit potential apartments once during the day and once at night before signing anything. A quiet neighborhood at 5 pm might be rocking at 11 pm, which may or may not bother you.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that an apartment in the West 90s between Amsterdam and Broadway was far, far quieter than an apartment on (and facing) Columbus Ave. It also depends, of course, on how high the apartment is--the further from the street, the quieter it will be. I am pretty sure that an apartment that's higher up will also be cleaner, since dirt from car exhaust seems to be a huge part of the dirtiness of the city. I don't have scientific evidence of that, though. It also depends a lot on whether the apartment in question faces the front (street) or back (alleyway) of the building. Likewise, if an apartment faces the George Washington Bridge, it will almost certainly be too noisy to stand. However, you may find another apartment in the same building, which faces in a different direction, that is bearable. Keep in mind, too, that noise levels will be different in the summer, with the windows open than in the winter, with the windows closed.

FEES: If you can get something directly from a real estate manager/landlord without paying a fee, that's obviously the best, since realtor's fees are often as high as 15% of the annual rent. You can usually see a lot more with a broker/realtor, though, although (almost?) all of them charge, or at least they did in 2007, the last time I looked for an apartment in NYC. I've lived in three apartments in NYC: two that already had people living in that I joined, and one that I found new with a friend. The last one is the only one that I paid a fee for. It was $2000 for a $1200/month place (if you live outside NYC, you will think, "That's so expensive!" and if you live inside NYC, you will think, "Wow, that's so cheap!"). I just amortized that cost over the two year lease and took it into consideration when comparing rents, and it was still worth it. It is a huge chunk of change all at once, though.

One way that people I know have been successful at finding apartments directly through the real estate manager/landlord is by literally walking the streets in the neighborhood in which you are interested in living and talking names/numbers off of buildings or speaking to supers/doormen about the availability of apartments in that building.

SAFETY: All of Manhattan is pretty safe these days, although I do always try to walk on busier, well-lit streets in the later hours, and there are some places I just won't walk alone late at night. (This usually just means that I get off at a different subway stop or take a different subway home.)

If you want to see how one neighborhood you're considering compares to another, you can check out the NYPD police precinct crime statistics.
The precincts on the Upper West Side are:
  • 20th: W. 59th to W. 86th St.
  • 24th: W. 86th to W. 110th St.
  • 26th: W. 110th St. to W. 133rd St.
Note that Central Park is its own separate precinct.

The precincts in Washington Heights are:
  • 33rd: W. 156th to W. 179th St.
  • 34th: W. 179th St. to the top of Manhattan (includes Inwood)

ONE LAST WORD: Check for black mold and water damage in the walls/ceilings, especially in older apartments. They are legally required to remove black mold, but it's hard to remove. (It's a health issue.) Black mold looks like you'd expect it to look. It's especially prevalent in bathrooms, but if you see it anywhere else, it means that the walls/ceilings are, or once were, wet. Water damage is often due to old plumbing, which should be replaced (rather than repainting/replastering the walls, which is what they will want to do). You can spot water damage from round stains on the ceiling or walls, and also by places where the paint bubbles out or is kind of buckled. Not just peeling, which could just mean that the paint job is just old, but coming off of the walls in roundish bubbles. Even if the wall is dry there, that usually means that it was wet there once.

Good luck! And New Yorkers, please add tips of your own in the comments, if you have 'em (and I know you do!).

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wow -that is pretty informative - way to go!
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